Elderly perspectives on Death

My uncle on the right

My uncle on the right

When I was conducting my interview with my 75 year old uncle I was amazed at just how insightful he was. Through all his years he had gained so many different experiences that I could only dream of. I felt very comforted actually talking to him about death and dying. A topic that was so scary to me was almost a non issue for him. I do not mean that he took it lightly or disregarded it, but he seemed to be at peace with the fact that he would die. He related it to being energy and that we would be uniting with the one ultimate energy (God) after our death, and when he put it that way , it felt so complex to me but yet so simple and comforting at the same time. I loved every second of the interview. We went on a few tangents of his college life and the people he lived with. The overall experience for me was one of immense learning and intellectual nourishment.

He told my about the difficulties he had with losing so many loved ones and friends over the years. At this point I could not help but feel sad for this man. He told me about losing his wife back in 2004 and how even now sometimes he has intense feelings of loneliness and sadness and how he always thinks about her. I have the feeling that it is easier for him to think about himself dying than the fact that his wife died. When I heard this from him I remembered what we learned in class about how a spouse feels when they lose their significant other. Although I understood it on an intellectual level at the time I only really comprehended how tough it must be when my uncle talked to me about losing his wife.

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Thinking About Losing Those Close to Me.

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After a semester of procrastination I finally interviewed my 75-year-old uncle today as a part of our final project. I found my 2 hour-long interview to be quite insightful, and it got me thinking about when we actually start thinking about death. I’m not specifically talking about our own death, but death in general. Speaking from my own life, I have been thinking about death since I was young. I was always afraid that my dad and mom would die and I would find myself trying to calculate how many years they had left to live. I have always been afraid of losing them. The thought of my own death does not worry me as much as my parents’ death because the latter seems closer to me.

My uncle mentioned that when his parents, older siblings and his wife died there was always an intense amount of sadness and loss that he felt. One thing that did strike me was when he said that after the first few deaths there something of a learning curve for him in learning how to deal with such heavy loss. As time went on and other members of his family began to pass he was more capable of dealing with those losses. I remember telling him I could not even fathom thinking about losing family members, and he told me that as time moves on loved ones will begin to pass and eventually I will learn to find peace with that. Although it is still a disturbing prospect to think about his words did bring some sense of calm and peace to me. As you can tell from my post my family means the most to me, and the thought of life without them is quite difficult for me to think about. I guess that reinforces my part in the death denying culture of America. That being said I am not ashamed of that fact, although I know at some point I will have to come to terms with impending death whether that be mine or my loved ones. I know in the end even through the heartbreak of loss I will be able to survive and be at peace with it.

Decisions for Death

In Susan Jacoby’s article “Taking Responsibility for Death” she details the importance of not waiting until the very end to make your end-of-life decisions. Susan points to her mother as a prime example of how much more smooth the entire process of dying is if you have all of your affairs in order, and she vows to have her decisions made ahead of time as well. I completely agree with her position on not waiting to make such decisions, and being proactive about them.

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We as Americans are blessed with freedom that many others around the world do not have, and we should take advantage of them to thefullest when we can. In regard to end-of-life decisions we have the responsibility to make those decisions ahead of time. It is very important to specify what kind of care you as an individual will want in specific situations and not allow those decisions fall into someone else’s hands when you are no longer competent or autonomous.  I know what kind of care I want if I become severely ill and I want my wishes to be adhered to even when I am no longer competent, which is why it is of the utmost importance to make these decisions ahead of time. People need to specify how their finances will be attended to, what kind of care they want if the patient becomes terminal, and just make sure there are no questions or argument on what they really wanted. I would want my family to give me advice, but in the end if I will make the decision on how my end-of-life process will proceed. For example, if I want to refuse medical care if I become terminal I do not want my family to be overbearing in their advice, but instead respect my decisions.

I believe that patients and their families can always learn about the medical care options that are available to them. It is very important to know all your options and what the possible treatments and alternatives for every scenario is because blindly doing what a healthcare provider says would not be wise. If my family or I as the patient have an issue or question about possible treatment or advance directives, I have every right to question the reasoning and motives behind their decision. I do not feel the patient or family should have to hold back because they are the ones in such a difficult situation and should be allowed to question the health care provider whenever they choose.

It is up to us to take control of how the end of our lives will play out. We need to be empowered Americans and face these tough questions and make the right decisions for us and our families.

Letting go- When medicine can’t help

I  myself am only 21 and right now thinking about such a situation as terminal cancer scares the hell out of me. My initial reaction and instinct was to do explore every possible option on the face of this earth in order to prolong my life. My fear of the alternative makes me want to search every possible avenue of medical remedy, but as I thought a little longer I realized although it is a frightening reality, what can medicine really do? Just as mentioned in “Letting Go” the treatment to terminal cancer or any other terminal illness is very demanding and in most cases will inhibit a person. In order to fight such a strong and terrible illness there needs to be extreme medical action taken and in most cases the patient would lose so much of their autonomy to do as they please. In many cases terminal patients will try and take any treatment just as Sara Monopli did, but eventually how effective was it really? Every different round of chemotherapy failed her and the cancer spread throughout her body, but no matter how futile it was they kept fighting which I find admirable. I can only imagine how difficult it is for a family to just let their loved one die at the hands of such an illness, but the honest truth is that it would be much more comforting for the patient to go out that way.

At this point I feel that the medicine should be administered to give the patient enough time to get their affairs in order and say good-bye to everyone. Any medicine or treatment that keeps a terminal patient in the hospital surviving only on tubes and medical equipment should not be used. This is all easy to say, the hard part would be to get the family to accept this fact. The reality of letting their loved one slowly die is an idea hard to digest and accept. I have seen four elderly people who attended my church die of terminal cancer. Three died in their homes and one died at a hospice, but all four of these wonderful people were surrounded by their loved ones in their final days. It was such a terrible time for their family but they faced that reality courageously. Although it was so painful to die that way and to accept this fate they were able to die on their own terms, and that is something that can provide a little comfort.

Medicine is the ultimate weapon in the fight against death, but in the end it is only a stall at best especially in terminal situations. If there is any hope at recovery I would be wholeheartedly in support of trying any medicine to obtain that result, but if it is terminal and no hope remains medicine should be used to provide comfort for that individual in their final days. Maybe when I am faced with this situation I will react quite differently because just the thought of losing one of my loved ones is devastating, but God forbid I have to make such a decision I will have the courage to let my loved one go out on their own terms.

Seven Pounds

The media portrays death and dying in various ways. A prime example is news outlets. There have been a disturbing amount of shootings in this country and every time one happens and a news outlet covers the story the focus is primarily on the shooter. News outlets love to sensationalize the story of the killer. They almost make it sound like some new television drama character. News outlets love to sensationalize the story of the killer. When the initial news of the tragedy breaks they spend so much time talking about the past of the killer and what could of led them to such a heinous act, but the fate of the numerous murdered individuals are left as an after thought. Only hours or sometimes days later during a night time vigil or memorial does a news outlet report on those that were murdered. I don’t think the news influences our understanding of death per say because that they are very cliché and superficial in the analysis and understanding of death. There is no actual going beneath the surface to take a deeper look on the death of an individual. Instead the focus on emphasizing how said the family members and mourners are and how much support they need. Although that is a very important aspect that is not the only part of dealing with death and dying.  Television shows and movies are at more liberty to try and attempt to understand death. Countless movies show us how characters deal with the loss of those close to them dying.

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The movie Seven Pounds is the epitome of facing death.  The premise of the movie is that Will Smith’s wife died when they were driving in the car and Will feels that it was completely his fault and wants to repay his debt with his life. Will Smith prepares the entire movie planning his death and what will happen to the parts of his body. He spends the whole movie determined to die but at the same time to help as many people as he can, and by the end of the movie he has helped 7 good people by giving some of them a body part that they need to live. The guilt he has from his life allows him to face a painful death with courage.